by Michelle Corbier
Before I begin a new mystery, I decide on the mechanism of death. In Murder Is Revealing, I chose a gun. Guns are straightforward, but like anything, require research. Size of weapon and caliber of bullet affect the narrative because they determine how you will commit the homicide. How would the murderer bring the weapon to the crime scene without being discovered? Would the bullet remain in the wound or exit clear through? Could a neighbor or passerby hear the shot? And finally, how the murderer escapes and eludes the police. An author must answer these questions to develop a coherent story.
However, in Murder In Gemini, I employed a poison. There are numerous poisons available. But a mystery writer must explain how the killer would procure the poison and understand its use. The difficult part is hiding the poison from the authorities. It can hide in food, drink, or a pill. Disguise its symptoms to mimic a medical condition. By delaying discovery of the poison, the author gives readers time to uncover the method of death. This adds suspense and raises the stakes for the novel’s protagonist and detectives.
For my current WIP, I made a rookie mistake in not first investigating the properties of the poison. Initially, it was going to be administered in a beer bottle. After research, I learned the poison wasn’t soluble in alcohol. Oops. Time to start over.
Readers expect a clear, believable story. They will investigate your poison and call out your mistakes in reviews, social media, and any other available medium. Do your research.
Red herrings constitute a significant component of a good mystery. How do you reliably mislead readers? Smokescreens can be simple or complicated.
It sounds maniacal, but I relish leading readers down an obvious trail and surprising them in the end. Authors should play fair, though. Authenticity matters. I provide clues for the presumed murderer and the correct killer. This way the reader participates in solving the crime. It’s irritating when the crime’s conclusion has no connection to the story. Don’t make the mystery’s solution impossible to deduce.
A puzzle requires pieces. Sprinkle those pieces throughout your story. Part of enjoying a mystery is unraveling the solution. Covering red herrings takes finesse. Because I don’t plot my stories, misleading clues develop as I work through the manuscript. The first draft may not include any. Several revisions are necessary to weave in intrigue and suspense. A mystery author crafts a captivating story to keep their audience guessing. Readers appreciate intrigue and reward complex narratives.
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